Ask me what my favorite music group is, and without hesitation I’ll tell you The Beatles every time. Ask me who comes second, and I’ll almost always say, after thinking it over for just a moment (to make sure that my current music tastes aren’t leaning in a slightly different direction): XTC. In a career that in many ways mirrored the musical progression of the Beatles, especially in terms of how far they came in musical sophistication, XTC made some of the most remarkable music of the latter 20th century. In the 8-year span of 1978 to 1986 in particular, their musical growth went from the spastic punk/pop/new wave rhythms of their debut album, White Music, to the lush, Sgt. Pepper-like mini-symphonies of what some consider their masterpiece, Skylarking. They went on to release several more excellent albums after that, through their final studio release of Wasp Star in 2000, but by then it wasn’t so much about explosive growth as variations on their style.
In the midst of all that explosive growth, they released English Settlement in 1982, which to continue the Beatles analogy would be something like their Rubber Soul, where they experimented with new instrumentation and textures and reached new levels of lyrical maturity. It was a double-album in its original vinyl form and offered up a huge variety of new sounds for XTC fans. Although the big hit from the album (especially in their native England) was “Senses Working Overtime,” a single unlike anything else on the radio at the time, one of the high points for me is “Yacht Dance,” Andy Partridge’s jaunty, rolling, acoustic song with beautiful guitar work. It truly lives up to its name, conjuring up the image of boats on the water, racing around each other in intricate patterns. Okay, so that’s what pops up in my head, anyway, and who knows what it would be if I had first heard it without knowing the song’s title, but whatever . . . XTC’s “Yacht Dance” is a great song.